3 AM. I was jolted awake, my pillow was wet with sweat.
"It was just a dream", my left brain said trying to act calm. "Your abandoned blog post did not chase you down Wilshire Boulevard asking why me, ok?"
"But...", my right brain replied, still trembling, "I cannot look it in the eyes, I mean, what could I say? Because you are not good enough? It is my fault!"
Ah, the joy of being a perfectionist. I am almost getting used to the merciless interrogations of my sub-parred works.
Now, please tell me you are one too to make me feel better.
Actually, I am quite confident that you are a perfectionist too. According to the World Health Organization, more and more young people worldwide are suffering from depression and anxiety disorder as social media-fueled perfectionism is rising.
So chances are that you are also as stressed out as I used to be. It is was just very tiring to be second guessing what other people might think about the quality of my work (and blog) all the time.
My friends are telling me that WHO is onto something. Somehow, we all believe that ambition, perfectionism, success, and stress arrive at our door as a package. One of my friends works in her empty office till 11 pm every night. Another one complained that all but a few in her team are bone lazy.
I used to be proud to be a perfectionist. I wanted to be just like Hermione Granger. I mean, who doesn't love her? (Voldmort, maybe?)
Then Professor Laura Empson comes along and made me think twice.
Her research on professional firms reveals that star performers in professional organizations all shared a common trait. The big salary doesn't make them feel worthy, and they push themselves to work longer and longer hours to please the clients.
Insecure overachievers. That's how she called the "constructive" perfectionist in a lot of us.
In this blog, I am doing something very hard for this recovering perfectionist. I want to share the 3-step process to reduce the perfectionist tendencies that I haven't perfected.
You see, the perfectionist in me stopped me from blogging.
What I hope, is that this can help the perfectionists among you to be more productive and less stressed.
Step 1: Stop the denial and embrace that I am a perfectionist.
"If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself"
Back in my startup days, I partnered with a 100% perfectionist marketing manager.
"Hi Grace, can you ask the printer to make the (19th) correction? This "a" is just off (0.01mm) and the noodle should be 5% brighter."
I hated that. The third revision looked darned perfect to me. It was not like we had plenty of time. "I am not a perfectionist like him". I comforted myself
Until I saw the test result of "Are you a perfectionist?" and this is the result:
"You feel pressured to live up to societal standards of perfection."
Yup. Ok. That's me. I realized that the person I hated was actually the perfectionist in me.
Step 2: Admit that perfectionist attitude makes me less productive and anxious
Michelle, a successful marketing executive, told me the story about the cabinet sitting in her trendy 11th arrondissement apartment's living room.
"For five years, this living room was a mess. Paul's toys were everywhere while I searched for the perfect cabinet. Isn't it funny I will give up one form of perfection for another? We finally bought a good enough cabinet, but I am still unhappy. I still want the perfect one that I cannot afford".
I wanted to laugh, but I caught myself quickly.
Didn't I make the same choice day in day out at work?
I know the countless time I freaked out over the font size, color, and margin of my powerpoint presentation deck. I know the countless times I stared at the prompt of Microsoft Word unable to type a word for the upcoming report.
Result? I forgot to go to the restroom. I ate lunch at my desk. I worked on the weekend. I woke up at 3 am pondering if the formula in cell B24 was correct.
I decided this has to change or I will go crazy.
Step 3: Replace "Perfect" with a new goal: "Done"
“Healthy striving is self-focused: "How can I improve?" Perfectionism is other-focused: "What will they think?” -- Brene Brown
I was afraid to fire my inner perfectionist.
There was a voice in my head, "if you fired me, you will be lying in bed, binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and you will be fired and everyone will think that you are a loser".
I love Brene Brown. I learned that I am confusing healthy striving and perfectionism in her book, "The Gift of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are".
Healthy striving means that I will do my best at work without constantly answering these questions from my inner critics:
"Let's find another picture for this slide. This 10th version is still not good enough."
"Oh no, I missed an "s" in this 5th bullet point down at the bottom of the page that nobody can even read on the screen."
And this is exceptionally freeing.
And that is why I managed to write this blog this week.